For 2021, we made a goal to flush out our expert series. Let’s be real, we can answer all things skincare (minus pregnancy questions), but you’ve also got questions about hair and makeup too. For our first 2021 expert, we’re bringing out the big guns with our friend @cosmetic_chemist, haircare chemist and the cohost of the Beauty Brains podcast Valerie George.
The Beauty Brains happens to be one of the OG cosmetic chemists blogs, and provides a wealth of knowledge on cosmetic chemistry, especially in haircare. Luckily we were able to snag her away from the lab and ask her a few questions about all things hair. We hope you enjoy, learn a pro tip or two, and as always please feel free to reach out to Valerie with your hair care questions. -Thanks Val!
1. As a haircare chemist, what’s your recommended hair routine?
Valerie: Shampoo and condition your hair in a frequency that is right for the amount of oil your scalp produces. If you're oily, wash more, if you're dry, wash less. No matter what shampoo or conditioner you use on a regular basis, it's important to have a clarifying shampoo in your routine every 1-2 weeks. When I joined the hair care industry, it was really eye opening to me how poorly people clean their scalp all over. They tend to focus on the top. Make sure to really get in there with your fingers, and rinse thoroughly while doing so.
2. If you take care of your scalp, can you promote better hair growth? Or is it truly all genetics?
Valerie: Better hair growth or mitigating hair loss really comes down to genetics and environmental stressors. Start by consulting with a dermatologist to understand the cause of any hair loss, and then developing a good care routine. It may be as simple as trying to reduce stress, eat a balanced diet, exercise, and avoid styling the hair tightly. As for hair growth, I would skip buying vitamins or topical shampoos and conditioners containing biotin. There has been no demonstrated benefit of supplementing with biotin unless you have a biotin deficiency.
3. For hair newbies, can you elaborate on avoiding styling hair tightly? Is that tight buns/updos? (Victoria - I personally wrap my way-too-long-pandemic hair in a bun daily...)
Valerie: Avoid ponytails, buns or braids that pull tightly on hair at the scalp. Hair loss and breakage can be a physical process where just tugging and pulling either breaks the hair or pulls it out of the follicle. I have also been wearing my hair in a bun (it’s the most common lab hairstyle, I feel like! -**can confirm, Valerie is not wrong on this.) and I can sometimes tell on my hairline when I need to give it a break. Also, avoid fastening a rubber band too tightly because it can be difficult to remove.
4. What are some symptoms of poorly cleaned scalp? If you start taking scalp cleansing/scalp care seriously, when can you expect to see a difference in the conditions of your hair?
Valerie: A poorly cleaned scalp will have oil pooling on the follicles and cheesy debris that clings to the hair fibers. It’s hard to see on yourself, but a close up view with even just 30x magnification is like 😱😱😱. The debris is a combination of skin and coagulated sebum. The good news is, this can drastically be shifted in first scalp cleaning. Of course, you’ll need to keep up the routine. If you have other issues going on that contribute to scalp debris, like seborrheic dermatitis, you will need to consult a dermatologist to discuss options as over the counter products may not treat the condition.
5. We’re seeing a lot of new launches in scalp care and hair growth promotion. Yay or nay?
Valerie: Yay on scalp care, nay on hair growth! I think scalp care is incredibly important if your scalp bothers you. Hair growth is a little more complicated. Hair growth products are regulated as over the counter drugs in the United States and therefore only minoxidil is an approved drug to facilitate hair growth. Bottom line - if these hair growth actives in these new product launches actually worked, the ingredient suppliers producing these actives would push to register their ingredients as drug actives for the hair growth market. That isn't happening, and my personal experience in the lab tells me their real-life results are limited.
6. What ingredients should users look for in their hair/scalp care products for healthier hair? Or is this all a hoax and we should just stick to the simple routine of shampoo and conditioning?
Valerie: Most shampoos and conditioners will do a good job of washing and conditioning the hair just fine, so use the products that feel the best to you. Most damage to hair occurs outside of the shower. Brushing the hair when dry causes mechanical damage that can lead to breakage. Heat styling the hair without an adequate heat protectant can lead to thermal damage that will leave the hair feeling dry and looking frazzled. Elaborate styling and twisting of the hair causes physical stress that can lead to breakage. I highly recommend a post-shower product to apply to your hair as its drying - or even when it’s dry - to help lubricate the hair fiber and decrease breakage. Sometimes, people see breakage and think their hair is falling out. A little air drying balm, heat protectant, or even an oil or silicone-based serum will help your hair go a long way… literally!
7. For our curly hair friends out there, are there any ingredients people should look for or avoid?
Valerie: There are many misconceptions about which ingredients don't work on curly hair, and I can attest that most of it is not well-grounded in science. When a product doesn't work, people want to attribute it to a single ingredient but it's really the overall formulation design. I would focus less on ingredients to avoid and focus on developing a routine that works best for the type of curly hair you have, regardless of ingredients. I think you'll have more happiness from better hair days! One of my favorite Instagram accounts for curly hair is Manes by Mell. She focuses on building a regimen that yields the best curls. It makes me wish I still had curly hair!
8. The concept of clean beauty seems problematic especially for hair care. There’s so many functional polymers and silicones that give hair that aesthetic (shine, volume, etc.) that aren’t natural. Can you help ease the mind of those worried about the synthetics in their haircare products? (We think people would feel better hearing straight from the haircare chemist herself)
Valerie: The ingredients used in hair care typically have been used for decades, and have copious amounts of safety data behind them. People get very focused on their beauty products poisoning them, and I promise everyone that’s not what brands are interested in doing. If you’re concerned about ingredient safety and the product you’re using, make sure you inquire with the brand if they have had a toxicologist review their products for safety. Toxicologists have all the knowledge and insight to approve products to go to market. Or, ask scientists like me and Chemist Confessions - we got you!
9. And finally...What type of hair brush would you recommend to minimize damage?
Valerie: Most hair brushes work just fine, as long as the bristles are spaced out so it can catch larger tangles. The biggest trick is the right method. Only ever brush wet hair with a wide toothed comb. Any time the hair is styled with a round brush during blow drying or brushed dry, lubricate the hair with a styling product or oil. This will reduce friction from the brush on the hair, reducing breakage. Always start brushing at the ends of the hair as well to work out any tangles, then introduce the brush to the scalp.